Let’s face it, women fight an uphill battle in their professional lives. Before you stop reading: this blog post is not only about women, it just addresses them first: everything you will read below is true for women and men alike – women face some additional obstacles.

The February 2016 statistics show that only 4 percent of S&P 500 companies are led by female CEOs. And a 2014 study of Strategy& demonstrates: Women who make it to such a position get fired more often than their male counterparts.

There are of course many individual reasons for each case, but there is an important lesson for all of us: getting to the top is difficult, staying at the top just as much. Getting there and staying there are endeavours we cannot and should not try to do on our own – we need every support and ally we can get on our way.

Why am I telling you this?

I’ve held various leadership positions in the Public Affairs and politics arena for big national companies. Before I became independent, I’ve had „classic“ experiences – positive and negative. At the very beginning of my career, I ran full-steam against a glass ceiling – that was held up by a female boss. Throughout my career, I had male mentors who helped me make the next steps. During my corporate career, I was able to pursue an MBA programme, internal leadership programmes as well as a coaching training. These programmes taught me that I want to sit in the driver seat and that I can do it. And that allies and coaches are incredibly important.

My corporate experience and development motivated me to set up IMConsult – and to make career development for women – and also for men – in Public Affairs a special focus. So let’s speak about essentials: here are five rules to boost your Public Affairs career.


  1. Women (and men) do not only need high-potential programmes, they also need promotion

I have been part of high-potential programmes. And don’t get me wrong, they are great because they have taught me a lot. You learn know-how, and you learn how to play the business game, and that’s where especially women are still at a disadvantage.

But: most high-potential programmes are employee-satisfaction programmes – nothing comes off it! Visibility towards top decision-makers, responsibility for fashionable projects, opportunities to demonstrate your leadership qualities, that’s what gets you promoted.

So I want more women in mixed high-potential programmes. But I think they need to quickly understand how to use them. And then all of you need promotions, and you need to ask for them. That’s where the problem starts for employers – they might have to admit that there is just not enough space at the top.


  1. Women (and men) need mentors and coaches to get to the top, and even more, to stay at the top

As mentioned before, you need mentors. I have had a fair share of male mentors. They had the power to promote me, and that’s what I needed. What I did not have, but what we need more of: female mentors and female role models. You need to have someone you aspire to, someone who you can imitate whilst searching for your own way. I regularly receive coaching, and my coach once asked me who my female role model was. I could not answer! By now, the world has changed and there are such women – Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, just to name two of my role models. We need both to boost our career: female and male mentors and coaches.


  1. Women (and men) in EU Public Affairs and politics need support and visibility at the homebase

Both women and men in Public Affairs face an additional hurdle: most of them work in the capital cities of this world, and they are therefore not close to the „mothership“. Even if everybody values you – if you cannot always be present, if you are not part of every accidental debate, you tend to be forgotten when it comes to who gets considered for which position. There’s nothing to do about that – except for finding mentors/supporters who lobby on your behalf. Supporters who make sure that you are included in debates, that you get the chance to present yourself at meetings, to take part in „high potential“ promotional schemes. And you should use every opportunity to be seen at the mothership. Even if for the sake of getting things done, staying in Brussels would make more sense.


  1. It’s not just them, it’s you

I have a confession to make: I want to lead. In everything I do. That’s ok in many cases, but not all the time. I can play nicely in a team, and I prefer teamwork to working alone. But I’m dominant, and that does not always make me the easiest person to work with. I know that, and because I know it, I can adapt and I can question my own motives when getting into a conflict with others. Reflecting your own character and how you interact with your peers, bosses and subordinates is crucial to advance your career. That’ where coaching and mentoring comes in. I would not have sailed successfully through a number of difficult situations, including especially my first team lead, without a professional, confidential sparring partner.

And if you make a mistake – don’t dwell on it. Fix it, apologise if necessary, and get on with it.


  1. Specifically to the women – and some of the men out there: we should not wait for anyone to hand solutions to us – let’s do it ourselves

Generalising is always dangerous, but you know how I mean it, so I will:

When working as a Public Affairs headhunter, I came across a striking character trait of men when it comes to career development. They just simply experiment. They may not be out searching for a job now, but if there is a new headhunter around, they will come and have a chat anyhow. You never know what comes off it. Women only approached me when they really wanted to change – and quickly. We can learn something from the men in this regard. We need to experiment more, explore all opportunities that can get us ahead. And have fun while doing so.

Internal high-potential schemes that give you visibility vis-à-vis the top management are just one way to get ahead. Another is to make a strong effort on your own to find mentors, networks, coaches. Within your workplace and outside. As frustrating as it may be, capabilities do not get you far without a network, and the knowledge how to interact with your network. So, put yourself out there and learn. Now comes the sales pitch: for instance,  with the trainings of IMConsult!

Sincerely yours

Irina Michalowitz

You liked what you read? Want more? Then check out our training section.


Upcoming trainings:


Job, Salary, Influence: how to best position yourself

  • a very hands-on, women-only leadership and career development training
    • on 12 May 2016 in Berlin (in German)
    • on 2 June 2016 in Brussels (in English)


How to make it out of the EU “Bubble”: discover your transferable skills

  • a just as hands-on training for anyone who wants to learn about his or her transferable skills – and how to market them outside public affairs
    • on 29 June 2016.


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